'Do As I Say, Not As I Do!'
Imagine Dad lecturing on the evils of drinking with a beer can in his hand. Or Mom cautioning on the dangers of overeating as she finishes a quart of ice cream.
Such well-intentioned parents, and millions of others, forget the first principle of effective child-raising: Actions speak louder than words.
The most important single influence on the development of children is the example set by their parents, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). If you say one thing and do another, you can be sure your children will pick up on the contradiction.
Children look to role models in building their personalities and shaping their behavior. In most families, those models are supplied by the parents.
"I'd estimate that about 70 percent of children's learned behavior comes from observing their parents' actions," says James B. Page, M.D., who works with families in Greenville, S.C. "I think many parents would be surprised to learn that their words provide only about 30 percent of the behavioral motivation that determines how a child will act."
What can parents do to make sure they set the right example through actions rather than mere words for their growing children?
The first step is for parents to scrutinize their own behavior, the NICHD says. Ask yourself: Are your actions as a parent really in line with your words? Do you need to bring your values and behavior into better alignment?
Here are five questions parents can ask themselves to get a better fix on their credibility as role models.
Do I observe the same rules of courtesy and respect for others that I require of my children? Example: Do I pepper my speech with obscenities while punishing my children when they utter a "dirty word"?
Do I show my children that I respect them fully, even as I demand respect from them? It's easy to become super-critical of your children and to forget that they're entitled to respect, just as you are.
Do I encourage my children to tell the truth at all times, and then instruct them to lie in certain situations, such as when answering the telephone? ("Tell them I'm not home!")
Do I urge my children to respect and value other people as I gossip about a relative or neighbor?
Do I really listen to my children, or am I setting a bad example by merely nodding my head and pretending to listen?